Last month, research firm CoreLogic reported that home prices—including distressed sales—rose more than 12 percent in February 2014 compared to February 2013. The change represents 24 months of consecutive year-over-year increases. That’s a big change from the 9.95 percent rise from February 2012 through February 2013.
Despite that good news, the housing market still experienced some up-and-down news last month. For example, the report on Housing Starts showed a rise for the month of March, but the report still came in below expectations overall. Similarly, Building Permits, which are a sign of future construction, came in below expectations for March. That news indicates that there may still be some underlying weakness in the market.
That said, there was some good news in the housing market. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that its Market Composite Index—which measures total loan application—rose recently after four straight weekly declines. The bottom line is that the housing sector is in the beginning stages of the spring buying season and, with higher home prices and tighter credit, it could be hard to see the same progress in 2014 as the numbers in 2013.
The housing market isn’t the only sector of the economy to receive mixed reports recently. Take the manufacturing industry for example. Although the New York State Manufacturing Index showed a modest rise in employment levels and a slight increase in the average workweek, it also showed a decline in April that came in well below estimates. On the flip side, however, the Philadelphia Fed Index—which also measures manufacturing—surged in April to come in well above expectations and up from the previous month.
One news item that wasn’t mixed was inflation. Remember, higher inflation can have a negative impact on Bonds and home loan rates. Last month, the Labor Department reported that the March Consumer Price Index (CPI)—which measures inflation paid by consumers—came in slightly higher than expected. The increase was led by higher food and shelter costs. Even when you strip out volatile food and energy prices, the Core CPI was above expectations. The year-over-year CPI numbers were also slightly higher. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Producer Price Index (PPI), which measures inflation paid by producers, also came in hotter-than-expected last month. In the end, this is just one month of hotter inflation, so it’s important not to read too much into it. But you can bet that the Fed will be closely watching the numbers in April for any signs of a trend.
Speaking of the Fed, the minutes from the Fed’s March meeting imply that the Fed will continue tapering its Bond and Treasury purchases this year. The Fed is now purchasing $30 billion in Treasuries and $25 billion in Mortgage Bonds to help stimulate the economy and housing market. This is down from the original $85 billion per month that the Fed had been purchasing. Additional tapering of these purchases will continue to impact our economy and home loan rates, and this is an important story to monitor as we head into the spring and summer home-buying seasons.
All in all, now remains a great time to consider a home purchase or refinance, as home loan rates remain attractive compared to historical levels. Let me know if I can answer any questions at all for you.